Discussions and bargaining on an extension of the current session of the Diet, which is scheduled to end on June 19, are heating up. Speculation about the extension of a Diet session that is tied up with the existing political situation is not unusual in itself, but discussions that reflect a leadership struggle more than anything else, like those currently taking place in the Diet, are rare. The remaining bills, such as those concerning emergency response to a military attack on Japan and the future of the postal service, are all very important, and rife with problematic content. In addition, the present confrontation is not only between the ruling and opposition camps but also between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and some elements of his Liberal Democratic Party. So the cross fire is much more complex than usual.

The most important feature of the present discussions, however, is that the “public factor” — in other words, the extent to which the public’s understanding and consensus-building make headway through the Diet deliberations — seems to have been left behind. As a result, the discussions on a Diet extension ring hollow. Our concern is that this situation will only further exacerbate the feelings of political distrust held by the public, which is already quite upset over the series of scandals that have recently come to light.

The opinions on Diet extension within the LDP are quite varied, ranging from those who advocate a long extension to those who want just a short one. The sharp drop in the Cabinet approval rating, which has fallen much more than could have been anticipated when the Diet session was convened, has left Mr. Koizumi gasping for breath, so he views the handling of the important bills as his top priority at the moment. Thus, LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki advocates a long extension so that all the important bills pending can be enacted.

On the other hand, although there are some who oppose any extension at all, the so-called resistance forces in the LDP and the majority in the opposition camp see a short extension as inevitable. These elements are hesitant because they realize that if they push the confrontation with the prime minister too far, he might move to dissolve the House of Representatives at the end of a Diet extension.

The exchanges concerning an extension of the Diet are more intense than usual because a sense of honor is involved. The postal service bills, for example, were submitted to the Diet without obtaining the prior approval of the LDP. At the same time, the fixing of the length of an extension could have an impact on the prospects for reshuffles of the Cabinet and LDP executives, which would shape the political lineup for the fall. If the extension is short, there is a possibility that Cabinet and party executive reshuffles will be pushed through, but if it is long, then reshuffles will likely be postponed.

One of the factors behind the failure to adopt or reject the bills is the restraining shackles of LDP factions. For example, the Mori faction, which supports Prime Minister Koizumi, places top priority on its long-cherished wish of enacting the emergency response bills. It also is keen to enact Mr. Koizumi’s postal service bills. On the other hand, the Hashimoto and Horiuchi factions, which are traditionally dovish on diplomatic and security affairs, are cautious about the emergency response bills but do not oppose the postal service bills.

Although the emergency response bills could even threaten the property rights of citizens, the government’s replies in the Diet have been vacillating, and it has been unable to clearly envision what the military attack in question would be and the difference between a military attack on Japan and incidents in surrounding areas. As for the postal service bills, it remains unclear whether the content is going to lead to privatization or not. And the personal information protection bill appears to have ground to a standstill, having received a real drubbing from public opinion.

Given that this Diet has been battered by the deep fissure between the government and ruling parties and the aftereffects of a series of scandals, one can understand the opinion that it would be best to bring the curtain down without any extension and start afresh later. However, the mission of the Diet is to scrutinize bills, iron out suspicions and contradictions, and endeavor to build a consensus among the citizenry. The problem of extending the Diet must be settled this week. If we go back to the starting line, without being lured off track by the ballyhoo of past political intrigue, then the length of extension should be decided quite naturally to the satisfaction of the public.

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